Not all organic yogurts are created equal, so which ones are the best and worst for digestion? Mamavation evaluated a spoonful of all the most popular brands to answer this question for you based on simple ingredients, probiotics, digestive health, nutrients, added sugar, third-party claims, and the official organic standards. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best & worst organic milk brands, best & worst organic egg brands, and safest ketchups without PFAS “forever chemicals,” now join us for an investigation on the best probiotic yogurts that are USDA organic and sold in the United States of America. For our recommendations, continue reading below and scroll down to the bottom of this post.
Disclosure: This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. This post also contains affiliate links.
Table of Contents
Organic Yogurts Are Preferable, But Not All Are Made the Same
You want yogurt with that creamy texture loaded with beneficial bacteria for your gut microbiome without all the problems that go with the conventional dairy industry, right? Then our advice is to opt for organic yogurt. Let’s start off by talking about conventional yogurt and why organic is preferable regardless of the quality. Conventional yogurt is produced with milk from cows that are confined in “factory farms” and unable to graze on pasture, fed genetically modified (GMO) grains, and because their environment is so problematic, they suffer from diseases that necessitate control with antibiotics. Chemical defoamers are also used to make the milk low-fat. Synthetic preservatives, artificial flavors, and sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are also used. In most conventional yogurts, the sugar content (and grams of sugar) is so high, it’s more comparable to a dessert or junk food item.
Yogurt is supposed to be one of the most nurturing foods available at the grocery store, but most of the time that is not true when you are reaching for a conventional yogurt brand. When yogurt is organic it’s made from organic pasture-raised cows, rich in calcium, grams of protein, beneficial fats, and other nutrients topped off with fermented live cultures and microorganisms (like lactobacillus acidophilus or bifidobacterium) for a healthy gut and lifestyle. If you opt for flavored yogurt, you’ll be consuming organic strawberries or other types of real fruit. Here are some additional benefits of organic yogurt:
- No genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs)
- No glyphosate pesticides were used on the property
- No growth hormones are used
- Naturally gluten-free
- A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids based on the amount of grass the cows eat
- Significantly higher levels of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin (important for eye health) are produced
- Has higher levels of beta carotene (vitamin A) and tocopherols (vitamin E)
- Real fruit is used
- No chemical processing aids are used like dimethylpolysiloxane defoamer. Independent animal studies ignored by EPA have linked this chemical to cell tumors in rats.
Unfortunately, as the organic industry grows and is available at conventional grocery stores, larger food companies have joined the organic dairy game and are producing yogurts that do not support the principles or mission of organic. Are they still better? Yes, but are you always getting superior nutrition and quality for your gut health? No.
How “Factory Farm” Organic Harms Dairy Farmers–Danone (Horizon Organic) Fires 89 Farmers To Save Money on Transport
As we were writing this investigation, a perfect example of how “factory farm” big agribusiness organic mistreats small organic family farmers became evident. Danone (the parent company of Horizon Organic, Dannon & Activia) rescinded the contracts of 59 small organic dairy farmers in Vermont, New York, and other NorthEast States, This sent the industry into chaos and turmoil. This is an example of how the small family farmer is being driven out of the market because of big company agribusiness.
Danone sent letters in August to 89 organic farmers, including 28 based in Vermont, announcing that its contracts with the farmers would end Aug. 31, 2022. These organic farmers were left scrambling who would purchase their milk. Stonyfield Yogurt, who supports over 200 small family farmers with their yogurt, stepped in to assist. They offered contracts to the best quality organic dairy farmers and have launched an internal task force of senior company leaders to work alongside state departments, nonprofit organizations, and retailers to find ways to keep the other organic farms alive.
Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of Stonyfield said “The potential loss of 89 organic family farms would be a devastating loss for our region and our environment. When we heard about the contract terminations, we knew we had to step up and help as many farms as we possibly could, beginning with our initial commitment to take a group of these farms into our program. It’s a challenging time for the organic dairy market to absorb more farms, but we can’t just stand by and watch these farms in our own backyard go out of business.”
This investigation gives preference to the dairy produced by small organic family farmers because the quality is superior, among other issues of treatment to animals and workers. The restrictions of USDA organic farming must be upheld in mission in order to produce the most nutrient-dense food.
Claims of “Live & Active Cultures” By Conventional Yogurt Brands Are Not What You Think
The Cornucopia Institute and University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Food Processing Center commissioned a study looking at marketing claims by yogurt products claiming to have “live & active cultures” to see if they compared to other organic brands that did not add “live cultures” to their yogurt, yet had them naturally. The study found the following:
- Consumers are tricked into thinking that conventional yogurt with “live & active cultures” seals have more live & active cultures. But the truth was that your typical organic farmstead products have far more of these live & active cultures than conventional yogurt based on the fermentation process and probiotic strains naturally in the ferment milk.
- Most of the conventional yogurt products on the shelves do not meet the legal definition to be labeled as “yogurt” by the FDA via their own “standard of identity.” The inclusion of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, milk protein concentrates, and other artificial nutrients that do not appear on the FDA’s list, and therefore it should not be able to be sold as “yogurt.”
In addition, certain ingredients added by conventional products like aspartame and artificial colors are linked to adverse health effects and diseases like brain tumors and neurological disease so why are they even marketed as a health food? The consumer does not believe that “health food” is linked to cancer and makes purchases based on that assumption. The reality is not reflected in marketing at all.
Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Scorecard Investigation on Best Organic Yogurt Dairy Farms
The Cornucopia Institute investigated the organic yogurt industry and produced the report Culture Wars: How the Food Giants Turned Yogurt, a Health Food, into Junk Food. As an extension of their organic dairy farm investigation, they sent questionnaires to each dairy farm, confirming details about animal treatment with aerial photos, and evaluating ingredients on the label. They continued to contact dairy farms that did not respond.
In order to evaluate yogurt dairy farm brands, they first investigated all organic dairy farms that produce milk, cheese, & dairy products like sour cream & whole milk yogurt. They looked at company leadership, and ingredients like colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and additional nutrients. A scorecard was created for all organic dairy farms, then later a scorecard was created for all yogurt brands and was updated on July 27th, 2021.
How to Score Organic Yogurt Dairy Farms on the Organic Standards & Principles
It’s important to understand how the yogurt brands were evaluated based on the standards and quality of the organic dairy they are producing. The following was used when evaluating each organic dairy farm.
- Ownership Structure: Are they independently run and thus know everything that is happening on their farm? Or do they have lots of barriers to find accurate information on practices and logistics?
- Brand Commitment: When a brand has a commitment to the organic industry and produces more organic products than conventional products, that is preferred. This helps consumers understand which brands are adhering to the letter and spirit of the organic regulations.
- Size of Farms: How large are the organic dairy farms and how many cows do they have? The largest farms consisting of hundreds or thousands of cows are ranked down.
- Other Certifications: Having other certifications other than organic is helpful, but some certifications are more valuable than others. Certifications like Animal Welfare Approved, Biodynamic Certified (Demeter Association), & Certified Naturally Grown are ranked better than American Humane Certified (AHA), Global Animal Partnership, & Non-GMO Project Verified.
- Grass-fed: Top scores are given to those brands that have some outside verification that they are truly “100% grass-fed.”
- Soy-free: Because soy is such a common allergy, dairy farms are scored lower when they give soy feed to their cows.
- Pasture: Dairy farms should have two or more cows per acre and practice rotational grazing practice.
- Number of Times Milked: It is standard practice to milk cows two times per day. When cows are milked more than two times per day, they are pushing their cows to maximum production. This leads to a less healthy cow.
- Cull/ Death Rate & Replacement Cattle: One indication of an ethical and productive organic dairy is that they will have surplus young cattle to sell, rather than having to purchase replacements. This means their cows are living close to a decade and are healthy. Cows inside “factory farms” only live about 3-5 years and those dairy operations must continue to buy replacements.
- Colors: There was a point where there was a shortage of organic coloring agents, however, that is no longer the case. However, you still have brands that are using non-organic coloring agents. Because colors are unnecessary, yogurts that do not include organic colorants are given fewer points.
- Flavors: Although organic flavors are allowable in organic yogurts, they are not needed. Brands using flavors are ranked down.
- Sweeteners: There are several types of sweeteners used in organic yogurt like cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. Brands that are not 100% transparent about the type of sweetener they are using are ranked down.
- Preservatives: Yogurts do not need preservatives, however, the USDA has approved the use of conventional citric acid and various citrates derived from the citric acid in organic products. These ingredients function as a preservative, a flavoring making it tart, and added nutrition if calcium citrate is used. When these ingredients are used, the product is ranked down.
- Pectin and Gums: These ingredients are used to thicken or stabilize yogurt products. Stabilizers prevent the whey from separating, which is something most consumers do not like to see. The most common form of thickener is pectin, which is derived from the rind of fruits and can be a source of pesticide residue because it’s allowed to come from conventional apples and citrus. Better brands are using thickeners like tapioca flour, locust bean gum, carob bean gum, gum acacia, or corn starch, or better yet, none at all.
- Synthetic Nutrients: Unlike milk, yogurts are not mandated to be fortified by the USDA. Some brands still add synthetic nutrients to their products. Brands that fortified their products were ranked down.
Mamavation’s Investigation of Best Organic Yogurt Brands
Mamavation reviewed Cornicopia’s Organic Yogurt Scorecard and report Culture Wars: How the Food Giants Turned Yogurt, a Health Food, into Junk Food. We took all the 5 stars rated dairy farms producing yogurt and kefir and put them in the “best” category, we put the 4 and 3 star rated yogurt and kefir dairy farms in the “better” category, and we put all the 1-2 star rated dairy farms producing yogurt and kefir in the “not our favorite” category. We made sure to mark every dairy farm in the categories that shared spots so it was easy for you to decipher their ranking.
Fortunately, each dairy farm is producing a different flavor instead of mixing them all together, so that makes it easier for the consumer to select the ones they want based on their farming and animal practices.
Not Our Favorite Organic Yogurt Brands
Each dairy farm producing yogurt and kefir in this category received either a 1 or 2 star ranking on Cornucopia’s Organic Yogurt Scorecard. Each dairy farm is marked individually.
A 2-star rating represents industrial-scale operations or others with outstanding questions regarding their compliance with USDA organic regulations. Private-label dairy products often fall into this category because they may be getting all, or some, of their milk from factory-farm sources. It’s safe to assume these are not from grass-fed cows. These brands may have a lack of control over their milk supply due to reduced oversight at the farms that supply their milk. None of the 2-cow rated brands was willing to participate in Cornucopia’s research.
A 1-star rating generally depends on industrial-scale dairy operations, some milking thousands of cows each, that almost universally skirt or misrepresent the pasture requirements. Transparency is a hallmark of the organic food movement, and Cornucopia believes it is essential that producers remain open with their customers to maintain the confidence consumers have in the organic seal. At a minimum, these operations are not following the spirit of the organic label. Generally, private-label products fall into this category because of their lack of transparency and the fact that most get some of their milk from factory-farm sources.
Not all yogurt brands are organic, so they would not be in this list if that was the case. Examples of non-organic yogurt we did not evaluate was Chobani, Icelandic, Siggi, Noosa, Silk, & Fage total.
- 365 Everyday, Lowfat Vanilla (2)
- 365 Everyday, Whole Blueberry (2)
- 365 Everyday, Whole Strawberry (2)
- Harris Teeter, Whole Plain (2)
- Harris Teeter, Lowfat Vanilla (1)
- Horizon, Whole Vanilla (2)
- Horizon, Whole Strawberry (2)
- Latta, Nonfat Vanilla (2)
- Latta, Nonfat Peach (2)
- O Organics, Nonfat Greek Vanilla (2)
- Simple Truth, Lowfat Vanilla (2)
- Simple Truth, Nonfat Greek Vanilla Bean (2)
- Wegman’s, Lowfat Plain (2)
- Wegman’s, Nonfat Greek Vanilla (2)
- Wegman’s, Nonfat Greek Blueberry (2)
- Wegman’s, Whole Vanilla (1)
- Wegman’s, Whole Strawberry Banana (1)
- Wegman’s, Whole Mixed Berry (1)
- Wegman’s, Lowfat Strawberry (1)
- Wegman’s, Lowfat Vanilla (1)
- Wegman’s, Lowfat Raspberry (1)
- Wegman’s, Lowfat Peach (1)
- Wegman’s, Lowfat Blueberry (1)
- Wegman’s, Lowfat Black Cherry (1)
- Wegman’s, Nonfat Greek Black Cherry (1)
- Wegman’s, Nonfat Greek Strawberry (1)
Better Organic Yogurt Brands
The dairy farms producing yogurt and kefir in this category are ranked at either 3 or 4 stars by Cornucopia’s organic yogurt scorecard. Each rank is placed at the end for you to easily decipher.
A 4-star rating in this category provides ample pasture for their animals and makes a credible effort to encourage natural behaviors. These brands may get milk or feed from outside sources that are certified organic. If multiple farms produce the milk for a brand, the management has close oversight and control over the practices of those farms. Dairy products from these brands come from animals that have been raised organically, at least since the last third of gestation, even if animals were purchased off-farm. The quality of the yogurt is similar to 5-star rating with additional additives.
A 3-star rating are meeting the standards to qualify for legal organic status. Many are good choices for consumers. All producers in this category appear committed to meeting at least the minimum pasture requirement. In this category, replacement animals may be purchased from outside sources, sometimes from conventional management where calves have received antibiotics and young cattle might have been fed conventional and/or GMO grains.
- 365 Everyday, Nonfat Plain (3)
- 365 Everyday, Whole Greek Plain (3)
- 365 Everyday, Whole Vanilla (3)
- 365 Everyday, Whole Plain (3)
- 365 Everyday, Lowfat Plain (3)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Lemon (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Blueberry (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Peach (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Greek Rasberry (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Strawberry (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Berry (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Strawberry (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Greek Vanilla (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Greek Blueberry (4)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Pomegranate Strawberry Acai Kefir (3)
- Clover Sonoma, Nonfat Greek Vanilla (3)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Blueberry (3)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Summer Strawberry Kefir (3)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Peach (3)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Mango Passionfruit Pineapple Kefir (3)
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Perfect Blueberry Kefir (3)
- Earth’s Best, Pear Mango Smoothie (4)
- Earth’s Best, Strawberry Banana Smoothie (4)
- Earth’s Best, Apple Blueberry Smoothie (4)
- Earth’s Best, Mixed Berry Smoothie (4)
- Earth’s Best, Pineapple Orange Banana (4)
- Earth’s Best, Peach Banana Smoothie (4)
- Green Valley Creamery, Lowfat Plain (4)
- Green Valley Creamery, Lowfat Vanilla (4)
- Green Valley Creamery, Lowfat Strawberry (4)
- Green Valley Creamery, Lowfat Blueberry (3)
- Green Valley Creamery, Lowfat Blueberry Pomegranate Acai Kefir (3)
- Green Valley Creamery, Lowfat Greek Plain (3)
- Horizon, Whole Plain (3)
- Kalona Supernatural, Whole Vanilla
- Latta, Acidophilus Plain (3)
- Latta, Nonfat Plain (3)
- Liberte, Whole Mango (4)
- Liberte, Whole Cherry (4)
- Liberte, Whole Lemon (4)
- Liberte, Lime (4)
- Liberte, Whole Coconut (4)
- Liberte, Whole Vanilla (4)
- Liberte, Whole Sea Salt Caramel (4)
- Liberte, Whole Strawberry (4)
- Lifeway, Whole Mixed Berry Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Lowfat Blueberry Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Lowfat Green Tea Matcha Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Lowfat Strawberry Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Whole Lemon Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Whole Strawberry Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Lowfat Rasberry Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Whole Coconut Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Whole Georgia Peach Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Lowfat Peach Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Lowfat Plain Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Lowfat Pomegranate Acai Kefir (4)
- Lifeway, Kefir Cup, Lowfat Blueberry (4)
- Lifeway, Kefir Cup, Lowfat Strawberry (4)
- Lifeway Skyr, Blueberry (4)
- Nancy’s, Whole Mixed Berry (4)
- Nancy’s, Whole Strawberry Vanilla (4)
- Nancy’s, Whole Peach (4)
- O Organics, Nonfat Greek Plain (3)
- O Organics, Whole Plain (3)
- Pavel’s, Lowfat Plain (3)
- Saint Benoit, Whole Strawberry (4)
- Simple Truth, Nonfat Greek Plain (3)
- Simple Truth, Lowfat Plain (3)
- Stonyfield, Whole Banilla (4)
- Stonyfield, Whole Vanilla (4)
- Stonyfield, Greek Whole Vanilla (4)
- Stonyfield, Whole Strawberry (4)
- Stonyfield, Lowfat Rasberry (4)
- Stonyfield, Greek Nonfat Plain (4)
- Stonyfield, Grassfed Greek Blueberry (4)
- Stonyfield, Nonfat Chocolate (4)
- Stonyfield, Lowfat Strawberry (4)
- Stonyfield, Whole Vanilla (4)
- Stonyfield, Lowfat Peach (4)
- Stonyfield, Nonfat Blueberry (4)
- Wallaby Organic, Whole Plain (4)
- Wallaby, Greek Lowfat Plain (4)
- Wallaby, Greek Nonfat Plain (4)
- Wallaby, Lowfat Plain Kefir (4)
- Wallaby, Plain Greek Yogurt (4)
- Wallaby, Whole Key Lime (4)
- Wallaby, Whole Vanilla (3)
- Wallaby, Greek Whole Blueberry (3)
- Wallaby, Whole Rasberry (3)
- Wallaby, Lowfat Mango Kefir (3)
- Wallaby, Greek Whole Vanilla (3)
- Wallaby, Lowfat Vanilla Kefir (3)
- Wallaby, Whole Strawberry (3)
- Wallaby, Lowfat Blueberry Kefir (4)
- Wallaby, Lowfat Strawberry Kefir (4)
- Wallaby, Greek Whole, No Sugar Added Vanilla Chai (3)
- Wallaby, Greek Whole Raspberry (3)
- Wallaby, Greek Whole Strawberry (3)
- Wallaby, Greek Whole, No Sugar Added Strawberry Rose (3)
- Wallaby, Greek Whole, No Sugar Added Peach Hibiscus (3)
- Wegman’s, Whole Greek Plain (3)
Best Organic Yogurt Brands
This category represents the best of the best organic yogurts with 5-star ratings. Producers in this top tier manage diverse, small to medium-scale family farms. They emphasize well-managed pastures. Pasture and other forage make up the majority of their animals’ feed. These brands generally sell locally or regionally under their farm’s name, mostly through farmer’s markets, food cooperatives, and independently owned food stores. Many of these brands also grow most of their own feed. The majority practice superior use of manure as fertilizer and naturally control crop pests and weeds through rotations and cover crops. These brands also have “closed herds”—raising their own replacements from the young animals born on the farm. Top-rated producers deserve accolades for going beyond organic. Some long-time practitioners would argue that this is the essence of true organic farming. In addition, their yogurts do not use any artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, pectins/gum, or synthetic nutrients.
- Alexandre Family Farm, Grassfed Plain
- Alexandre Family Farm, Plain
- Alexandre Family Farm, Vanilla
- Berle Farm, Whole Plain
- Butterworks, Lowfat Maple Kefir
- Butterworks, Lowfat Plain Kingdom Kefir
- Butterworks, Whole Plain
- Butterworks, Whole Maple
- Butterworks, Nonfat Vanilla
- Butterworks, Whole Lemon
- Butterworks, Lowfat Orange Sunshine Kefir
- Butterworks, Nonfat Plain
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Plain Kefir
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Greek Plain
- Clover Sonoma, Nonfat Greek Plain
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Greek Honey
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Plain
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Plain
- Clover Sonoma, Lowfat Vanilla
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Vanilla
- Clover Sonoma, Whole Maple
- Dutch Meadow, Whole Greek Plain
- Dutch Meadow, Whole Vanilla
- Dutch Meadow, Whole Greek Vanilla
- Dutch Meadow, Whole Greek Maple
- Dutch Meadow, Whole Maple
- Dutch Meadow, Whole Plain
- Green Valley Creamery, Whole Plain Kefir
- Green Valley Creamery, Whole Plain
- Green Valley Creamery, Lowfat Plain Kefir
- Hawthorne Valley, Whole Maple Vanilla
- Hawthorne Valley, Whole Plain
- Kalona Supernatural, Greek Plain
- Kalona Supernatural, Whole Plain
- Kalona Supernatural, Lowfat Plain
- Kalona Supernatural, Whole Vanilla Kefir
- Kalona Supernatural, Whole Plain Kefir
- Kalona Supernatural, Lowfat Vanilla
- Liberte, Whole Coffee
- Lifeway Skyr, Honey
- Lifeway Skyr, Natural
- Lifeway, Kefir Cup, Lowfat Honey
- Lifeway, Whole Plain Kefir
- Maple Hill, Whole Vanilla Kefir
- Maple Hill, Whole Plain Kefir
- Maple Hill, Whole Strawberry Kefir
- Maple Hill Creamery, Whole Cream-top Plain
- Maple Hill Creamery, Greek Plain
- Maple Hill Creamery, Whole Cream-top Vanilla
- Maple Hill Creamery, Greek Vanilla
- Nancy’s, Whole Greek Plain
- Nancy’s, Whole Plain
- Nancy’s, Nonfat Plain
- Nancy’s, Whole Greek Honey
- Nancy’s, Nonfat Greek Plain
- Nancy’s, Lowfat Plain
- Nancy’s, Nonfat Greek Honey
- Nancy’s, Whole Vanilla
- Nancy’s, Nonfat Vanilla
- Nancy’s, Grassfed Whole Ginger Peach
- Nancy’s, Grassfed Whole Plain
- Nancy’s, Grassfed Whole Vanilla
- Nancy’s, Grasfed Whole Blueberry Lavender
- Saint Benoit, Whole Honey
- Saint Benoit, Whole Plain (glass container)
- Saint Benoit, Whole French Vanilla (glass container)
- Saint Benoit, Whole Meyer Lemon (glass container)
- Seven Stars, Whole Vanilla
- Seven Stars, Whole Maple
- Seven Stars, Whole Plain
- Seven Stars, Lowfat Maple
- Seven Stars, Lowfat Plain
- Seven Stars, Whole Lemon
- SpringWood, Whole Plain
- Stonyfield, Grassfed Greek Plain
- Stonyfield, Greek Whole Plain
- Stonyfield, Greek Nonfat Vanilla
- Stonyfield, Lowfat Plain
- Stonyfield, Whole Plain
- Stonyfield, Nonfat Plain
- Stonyfield, Lowfat Vanilla
- Stonyfield, Grassfed Greek Vanilla
- Straus Family Creamery, Whole Vanilla
- Straus Family Creamery, Nonfat Greek Plain
- Straus Family Creamery, Whole Plain
- Straus Family Creamery, Whole Greek Plain
- Straus Family Creamery, Lowfat Plain
- Straus Family Creamery, Whole Maple
- Straus Family Creamery, Lowfat Greek Plain
- Straus Family Creamery, Nonfat Plain
- Straus Family Creamery, Whole Blueberry
- Straus Family Creamery, Whole Greek Vanilla
- Straus Family Creamery, Nonfat Vanilla
- Trimona, Whole Plain
- White Mountain, Nonfat Plain
- White Mountain, Whole Plain